Gov. Phil Murphy and Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli announced Wednesday that they are “strongly recommending” that even vaccinated people wear face coverings when they are indoors in areas of increased risk — and that they reserve the right to mandate such a regulation should the state’s health metrics continue to go in the “wrong direction.”
Murphy and Persichilli gave the following examples of indoor areas of increased risk:
- Crowded indoor settings;
- Indoor settings involving activities with close contact with others who may not be fully vaccinated;
- Indoor settings where the vaccine status of other individuals in the setting is unknown;
- Where an individual is immunocompromised or at increased risk for severe disease.
Murphy and Persichilli also said they continue to “encourage” residents to get vaccinated, but made no mention of whether they are considering making that mandatory.
“Fortunately, our numbers are a fraction of those in many other states, most of which have significantly lower vaccination rates,” they said in a statement (full text below). “Should our numbers reach those levels, we reserve the right to take more drastic action, including a statewide mask mandate.”
The statements are not nearly as strong as that of other leaders — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that the “voluntary phase is over” in the effort to administer COVID-19 vaccinations to city workers.
And they seemingly beg more questions than provide answers.
- What “numbers” is the state looking at?
- What states are they being compared with?
- What “levels” do they need to reach for the state to make drastic actions?
The Governor’s Office didn’t immediately respond to a request for more clarification.
On Tuesday, speaking on Yahoo Finance, Murphy was asked if he felt state residents had an appetite for a return to more COVID-19 mandates and regulations.
“What’s the appetite?” he asked, and then answered. “Not much. As you can imagine, people have had had it with this pandemic.
“Overwhelmingly, in our state, the people have done the right thing, but they’re tired. They’re tired of this — and who could blame them: The mental health toll has been significant. The toll on our economy has been significant. So, we’ll do what we need to do. But in terms of appetite from the man on the street, it’s low, and who can blame them, particularly if they’re if they’re fully vaccinated, and they’ve done the right thing.”
Murphy repeatedly said, “All options are on the table.”
“Our metrics are trending in the wrong direction, and new data suggests the Delta variant is more transmissible even among vaccinated individuals, which is why we are making this strong recommendation.
“Fortunately, our numbers are a fraction of those in many other states, most of which have significantly lower vaccination rates. Should our numbers reach those levels, we reserve the right to take more drastic action, including a statewide mask mandate.
“We have crushed this virus repeatedly like no other state in the nation, and we are proud to boast among the country’s highest vaccination rates. But, at this point, given where our metrics are now, we feel the best course of action is to strongly encourage every New Jerseyan, and every visitor to our state, to take personal responsibility and mask up indoors when prudent.
“And we equally encourage every unvaccinated resident or visitor to get vaccinated. The vaccines are proven safe and highly effective and are the surest way we can end this pandemic.”